Saturday, 7 April 2012

Willesden Green development a 'done deal' despite public opposition - but we can have a say about the shelving!

A member of the Keep Willesden Green Committee has written this report on the meeting with Ann John, leader of Brent Council, held at Brent Town Hall earlier this week.

Ann John, outside Brent Town Hall
Gill Wood  introduced the group, expressed our appreciation for the time that Councillor Ann John was giving to listen to our concerns and explained that we represented more than 5,700 people who signed the recent petition in good faith to keep the Old Library building.

Gill also stressed that the KWG group was not affiliated with any political party. 

We are not anti-development, Gill continued, we just want to ensure that if the WGCC development has to be built at all, that not only it will be of lasting benefit to an increased library using population, but that we also get a public amenity that Willesden deserves, showing that the architects have been sensitive to the specific needs of the community it is there to serve. 

Gill finished her introduction by saying that several of us attended the Executive Committee meeting in February seeking answers to the genuine concerns that residents had been relaying to us and were disappointed that none of our questions were properly addressed. She asked Ann John to share her vision of the Willesden Green Cultural Centre, which has so far failed to reach the larger Brent community. Gill concluded that we were gathered to listen to Councillor John and we hoped that she would listen to the views of Brent residents.

Ann John then explained the challenges of meeting the many needs within the borough including the lack of 700 school places and the increasing (normally transient) population who choose to settle in Brent.
She explained that the major refurbishment of Ealing Library had been successful and this library was now open. The Council’s intention was to offer libraries fit for the 21st Century and that the Civic Centre in Wembley and the new WGCC in Willesden Green would meet the needs of a new generation of library users. 

The Civic Centre would return revenue, in so far as it would offer office space to replace several costly buildings across the borough and would offer facilities that would yield an income. WGCC would be financed by the sale of the land at the rear and would offer a more sustainable building with improved facility and Council offices for public interface on the top floor to replace the One Stop Shop for better local connection in the south of the Borough. Other issues were raised mainly to demonstrate the lack of public funding and the housing and education demand that the increasing Brent population are creating.

KWG made the following points:

            The lack of consultation has angered local residents. The representative group all live within close proximity of the Library and none of us had received Galliford Try’s leaflet information regarding the library development until March 2012. There had been no information posted in the library. We felt that the plans had been kept hidden.

            The scheme is predominantly a housing scheme. KWG are not anti development and understand the need for housing but if the scheme is built a healthy balance will be lost.

            KWG presented the developer’s plans overlayed on to a satellite image of the site. We demonstrated to Councillor John that the scheme illustrations are very misleading. For instance the scale has been tweaked to imply greater outdoor amenity and the position of the London plane tree is not accurate. As the plans stand the London plane will be lost.

           Similarly the open space at the back is not adequate, due to the challenge of levels which has not been factored in to the design, the rear area will simply be a shady, steeply terraced muggers paradise. This is not adequate open space

           The foot-print of the new building is 50% of the existing building. An additional floor of office space does not return the amenity that will be lost. Cllr. John  seemed surprised and concerned by all of the above. She was clearly  not fully aware of the design flaws although she was aware that the architects needed to resolve the matter of level change.

KWG presented a plan that moved the Open space to the front of the building on the High Road, added 20% more space to the footprint of the library and offered solutions for the level change while retaining the Old Library. The Housing scheme is also retained.

In response, Cllr  John said that she had been advised by a team of Architects and Consultants that the Galliford Try scheme would deliver Public benefit. We have clearly demonstrated that it will not. Cllr. John asked us to present these concerns to Galliford Try.

KWG expressed concern regarding the maintenance of the building. We can’t  trust a Council who built a library with a 65 year shelf life in 1983 declaring that it would be sustainable and reduce maintenance and heating costs, then insist 28 years later that it is no longer fit for purpose and that we need a building that will be sustainable and reduce maintenance and heating costs…..

 We also discussed the funding of the project and KWG raised a concern that the £9.4m was not sufficient to return a building of any quality. That the proposed build cost would be £180/ sq.ft. which is not sufficient to meet the requirements of the Client brief and will only provide a shell Community Centre specification not state of the art library and Council offices given the requirement for on site sustaining of the demolished old libraries. The cost in 1983 of the existing library was £5,000,000. This inflation linked would be a figure of £13,900,000 today. Both these points Ann John said she would refer to the Regeneration team along with our comments regarding Consultation.

KWG then made the point that in the Executive  meeting of February 15th 2011 the Regeneration Team had stated: 
3.17 To inform the procurement process a vision statement and client brief for the Councils new building would be developed. The documents would clearly articulate the Council's aspirations and detailed design requirements for the new building. A planning brief, draft development agreement and contract would also be developed to ensure that from the outset the potential developer partners are aware of the contractual requirements that would be placed upon them when delivering the project. 
 None of the above has happened. Why has the planning brief phase been skipped and the critical consultation following the planning brief not carried out? Cllr.John had no answers for this. Again she said that she would discuss this with the regeneration team.

With regard to the demolition of the Old Library, Cllr. John acknowledged that thousands of residents living adjacent to the High Road wished that the Old Library should be retained. Remarkable PR have published 77% as their figure. KWG have a figure of over 90% following their own survey. Ann John insisted that petitions were not reliable indicators of public need. That residents were wrong in their understanding of their local townscape and that she was best placed as a non-resident minority to decide that demolition of the Old Library would serve the Public interest best!....

KWG also mentioned that the open space outside the Old Library was an important “crossroads” and meeting point for the mixed demographic of Willesden. It is a much needed and highly valued common ground on the High Road. It is important that this space is retained.

Cllr. John could see the benefits of common ground but felt that currently, in practice, it was not a safe spot and harboured negative factors. KWG disagreed with this and offered local insight that the space on the High Road was much safer than the muggers' alley that was proposed at the rear.

The meeting was concluded by Cllr. John, declaring that the plans would not be altered for the planning application. The next consultation on 18th April would discuss the detail of the internal fit-out. 

The situation therefore is that the previous consultation has not taken in to consideration any of the views of the Public, we are simply being served a done deal and allowed to discuss the minor detail of library shelving etc.

The Galliford Try scheme breaks all the codes of good design and shows no benefit to the local Community. We can only hope now that our Council will realise their mistakes and the acknowledge that bad advice has lead to an unacceptable development.


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  2. These are additional remarks from Gill Wood:

    One of the best moments was at the end when Kate started to ask Ann John about the regeneration budget for this year and next year, quoted in Brent expenditure brochure as being over £750m. I think she was going to ask whether some of that money could be allocated for the upkeep of existing new library building but she didn't get that far as AJ said expenditure figs were wrong and was then silent when Kate showed her the brochure. She looked at them and said the figures were wrong and said the budget expenditure was less than that, but couldn't tell us why or by how much.

    Jackie demonstrated the numbers of respondents to GT wanted the old library buiding and outside space kept at the front, and reinforcing this with KWG's survey - surely the majority view has to be taken into account? AJ quoted the refusal to listen to the Swaminarayan petition that wanted to sacrifice open space for a car park - we pointed out that these things aren't comparable.

    We concluded by saying that we couldn't understand why the architects with a little imagination couldn't keep the old library building and get everything else that the majority of those who have submitted their views want to keep too. Helen said if that were to happen AJ would take the people with her. Her response was that you can't take everyone with you and that there would always be opposition.

    On reflection, I think I was surprised at the lack of grasp she had on the detail of the project is she meant to be spearheading. She said that she's being advised by regeneration and council professionals, but I think we demonstrated that she's being ill advised. Although she said she had to take Kate's word for the measurements, she could see on the plans that the footprint of the building was smaller, that the scale of the GT plans were misleading [take where they had positioned the tree for example].

    There's a danger that if the design flaws are not corrected and the wishes of the majority of the people WHO LIVE HERE and have expressed their opinions on the plans as they stand are ignored, rather than it being "a big shout for the south of the borough" as she put it, it will be seen as being a big shout AT the south of the borough by those, many of whom do not live in Willesden [and you could include the architects, developers' representatives and even the Regeneration officer responsible for this project - all who whom live out of this borough!] who could have done more to listen to those of us who want a centre that will be well used by all of the communities in Willesden without sacrificing our history, townscape and [dare I say it] our bookshop.

    The building will be a legacy and constant reminder to the people of Willesden and surrounding areas of either the Council's inability to stand up to the developer's housing greed in sacrificing our public amenity both inside the building and the outside space, or of the Council's arrogance in giving the people what it thinks it deserves rather than what many people have told them they actually want and need.


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